Notes from ‘Down Under’
The Summary Record of a Six Week Trek through Australia and New Zealand
The following summarizes a six week tour of Australia and New Zealand that we took with friends Lil and Bill Therriault in March/April 2006. The bulk of the following consists of E-mail messages sent back to friends and family in Canada, edited predominantly for spelling, grammar, and paragraphing. Photographs and some prose (this type), filling in a few of the gaps, generated by too much ‘looking’ and not enough ‘reporting’, were added subsequent to the return home to provide a more lucid description of the adventure.
Our trip saw us leave Thunder Bay at 4.30 pm on March 1, 2006 and fly to Los Angles via Toronto, arriving at about 11.20pm. We spent the next 20 or so hours in LA, including a bus tour of the city highlights, before boarding United Airlines for Sydney, arriving there at about 8.30am on March 4, having summarily lost a whole day by crossing the International Date Line.
We then spent 4 days in Sydney, flew to Adelaide where we overnighted en route to Kangaroo Island where we spent two days with an emphasis on Australian wildlife before we retreated to another overnight in Adelaide from whence we flew to Brisbane. In Brisbane we rented a car and made our way north through Queensland to Port Douglas where we put down roots for a few days before flying to Auckland, New Zealand on March 21.
We pursued the bed and breakfast route in Auckland from where we rented a camper van and made our way south across the country for the next 22 days. We finally left Auckland for home on the early evening of April 13, via an 18 hour stopover in San Francisco. We were firmly ensconced back in the Thunder Bay airport by 9.00pm on April 14 after a 14 hour trip from SF.
We arrived LA late on the evening of March 1 and made immediately to bed. The next day saw us involved in a tour of the highlights of LA including Marina del Rae, Venice, Palisades Park and Beach, Santa Monica, Sunset Strip, the more accessible part of Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and Graumans Chinese Theatre.
A Canal in LA Suburb of Venice Constructed by Immigrant Italian Workers in the Later 1800’s
Theatre where they were setting up for the Oscars on the weekend. Memorable encounter – many of the shops on Rodeo Drive are so exclusive that their doors are locked and an appointment is necessary to shop! We took the mandatory photo of the Hollywood sign from Graumans Chinese Theatre.
Sent: March 11, 2006 8:45 PM – Yeppoon, Australia
Subject: IT IS WARM OUT TODAY.
It is March 12 and we are sitting in a little town right on the Tropic of Capricorn called Yeppoon - sunny, nice breeze and about 27C. We have been staying about 20 km down the road at the modest family-run Kinka Palms Motel situated right across the road from a mile long beach; an aboriginal family was noted netting food fish in the creek running across the north end of the beach.
Arrived Sidney on the fourth, good weather (always it seems!) and spent four days wandering around the city. Mardi Gras on the Saturday and a four hour parade in the pm - biggest gay pride parade in the world apparently, streets lined several deep. We had to buy plastic stools from one of the many entrepreneurs to see above the heads of those in front.
Sitting on Our Bargain Plastic Stools Awaiting Sydney’s Gay Pride Mardi Gras
SIDNEY big - 4MM - but the center of town is quite comfortable and easy to get around in. Cab driver said it was also much safer than the suburbs; probably right. Walked to most destinations, or took a LRT. Even found a casino! Sydney harbour a gem and the waterfront properly developed as a people place. Ferry system very efficient and very busy to various subdivisions and even the zoo. The Sydney Opera House is strikingly magnificent.
Sydney Harbour from the Manley Ferry
Flew to Adelaide on Tues and took ferry to Kangaroo Island and toured for 2 days - kangaroos - they jump; wallabies - they jump smaller but not quite fast enough for cars; k-bears - they are not cuddly and they are lethargic as they sleep for 20 hours a day to digest food; echidnas - close to a porcupine but smaller and with bigger quills and actually related to a platypus (have only seen latter in aquarium); fur seals; sea lions; penguins - missed the three foot lizard. Many birds - stunning colors and sounds, including cockatoos and lorikeets and parrots and budgies!
Kangaroo Island Sea Lions
A Small Kangaroo on Island Kangaroo
(The fences are protecting the vegetation)
New Zealand Fur Seals on Kangaroo Island
A Shy Echidna on Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island lies about a 45 minute ferry ride off the mainland coast about a one and a half hour bus ride southeast of Adelaide. It is the third largest Australian Island and is about 60 percent cleared for farming, mainly sheep and cattle. Probably half of the forested land lies in some form of park or conservation land classification. Wildlife is abundant and generally approachable. The initiative was well organized with knowledgeable guides and superb lunches.
Southern Australia was generally was dry.
Arriving Brisbane on the early pm of March 12 the four of us headed north in a rental car without any particular destination. After a visit to a tourist information centre we were directed to specific accommodation in a small seaside community called Tin Can Bay. The digs turned out to be a very well appointed two bedroom apartment which cost us something less than $70 each because of off season rates. The community’s biggest draw is a bottle nose dolphin which arrives at a dock most mornings to be hand fed his daily allowance of fish by the tourists. He and his mother before him have some 15 years in this kind of tourist business. According to the press the mammal is reputed to bring in about 35,000 tourists a year, but not withstanding that the authorities (read Conservation Department) had been trying to revoke the authority of the restaurant owners who, along with the help of appropriately tee shirted volunteers, manage the daily parade of tourists. It looked that perhaps the community may have won that one!
The east coast much more lush - large sugar cane fields and cattle ranches in the valleys or costal plain; large radiata pine plantations in the state forests being patch cut at about a foot on the butt.
Queensland’s Coastal Farming Belt
Food in restaurants generally expensive, except for MacD’s which is close to same price. Restaurants do not necessarily have washroom facilities and they will advise you to go down the street to the competition or an office building when in need. Blew the side out of a tire yesterday and will have to replace tomorrow. Ah, the trials of being on holidays!!
Just another Afternoon as a Tourist
S & R
Sent: March 14, 2006 7:41 PM Townsville, Australia
Subject: Still Goin' North and It's Getting Warmer!
Are in Townsville today - city about the size of TB. Temp about 28 heading for a muggy 32.
After two nights at the Kinka Palms we again struck north and by about 5 pm found ourselves at a Comfort Inn called Club Crocodile in an upscale tourist town of Arlie Beach (perhaps a population of 10,000) in the Whitsunday Island area. The town lies on a point on the mainland surrounded by National Parks, including the offshore Whitsunday Islands. While the town core is pretty much stable, there is much construction, primarily hotels and homes, on either end. Yvanna Trump is said to be constructing a major international resort in the vicinity. The act in the lounge shortly after dinner was a family affair, with Dad on the guitar, mandolin, and didgeridoo, 15 year old daughter on the fiddle, and 13 year old son on the guitar and vocals – generally tending to Irish music (the didgeridoo was not part of their core business) and clearly much experienced. Dad had obviously done the busker circuit in an earlier life and could still make good balloon animals.
Bill and I tried to get out to the reef today but the trip cancelled because of weather (or lack of paying customers?) so they said. We had a good walk to the dock just after first light though.
This is jelly fish season and two separate species of the little buggars sting to the point of arrested breathing and heart failures. Some of the locals we've talked to said there is no way they'd go in the water either close to shore or out on the reef at this time of year. There are signs on every beach, and on the one in front of the city there are strategically placed containers of vinegar which are to be applied instantly to any swimmer stung. However, the kids were surfing some 500km south because the jelly fish season there is over by the first of March.
Looking South Along the Townsville Beach – Note Vinegar Storage Facility Foreground
So its look for a hotel with a pool!
Driving on the left is still a bit of a challenge! Biggest problem is turning left with the rental car because for some reason the windshield wipers keep coming on instead of the signal lights. We blew out a tire the other day - about a four inch hole in the sidewall. Ended up after several phone calls on a Sunday simply replacing it with a second hand tire for the cost of $20 - big deal! I also scraped a post the other day along the front bumper while getting off the road to change drivers but the thing cleaned up good as new with a little bit of stuff we bought at a paint store. Our car had a lot of hail damage when we picked it up. We suspect they think that by giving it to a bunch of right hand drivers they just might luck out and have us do enough damage to warrant the insurance doing a full repair job. So far (!) we have ruined their diabolical scheme!!
A disappointing amount of wildlife along the roads - a few road kills in the form of kangaroos and wallabies and the odd bird - this section of the country is mainly in cattle production. Sure glad we took the Kangaroo Island jaunt. There are places here where one can imaging one is driving in Northern ON, except for the lack of Precambrian rock and the eucalyptus along the roads. The disappointing wildlife sighting would often hold for Northern ON as well! All this has lead to the proposal to set up a bear and moose feeding station in the Chapleau Game Preserve to bring in bears (with a dump) and moose (salt and a special pond!). You have to admire our entrepreneurship. I have a feeling MNR won't want to play in this one. If successful we could franchise it across the North!
An Aboriginal Tribute to Their Snake Spirit at Ayr
This city (Townsville) has just done a major $23MM revival of its waterfront. Really well done - spacious tree lined walks, green spaces, and fitness opportunities along the beach with the odd set of washrooms and the odd coffee place and fishing piers. Two of the beaches have been outfitted with special netting to make for safe (?) swimming but again some of the local still won’t touch it at this time of year. There is full access by the public to the beach all the way along (+/- 2 km) - Thunder Bay could learn something here. Across the street (with slow traffic due to frequent roundabouts and speed bumps) from the waterfront, is predominantly condo housing in the process of going up scale, and a few hotels going in the same direction. There is a continuous parade of people along the waterfront from daylight (~6.15am) to midnight.
We'll be off tomorrow am for Cairns (Irene, still having difficulty pronouncing it!) and Port Douglas where we'll make another attempt at the Reef.
Take care all.
S & R
Sent: March 17, 2006 4:41 AM – Port Douglas, Australia
Subject: If It's St. Patrick's Day It Must Be Port Douglas
We've just had dinner and are at an internet cafe so thought the time was perfect to send a couple of lines. We had a wonderful day today, took a 11/2 hr. boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkelled in the am for an hour (some of us longer!) off an island, then back to the boat for a great lunch, and then more snorkelling off the boat. Saw some great big turtles, 100 year old clams (4 feet along the valve!) and Nemo and many friends; it really was quite awesome! Me in a lycra jelly fish protection suit was pretty awesome too, but there were 20 people on our boat of all different shapes and sizes so I blended in!!!!
The Flattering Lycra Jelly Fish Protective Suits
We arrived at Port Douglas yesterday afternoon after a hair raising trip from Cairns along what they call a scenic highway sandwiched between the mountainous rainforest and the shoreline - many beautiful undisturbed beaches. Lil and I were in the back seat (that's where we've been placed) just having fits and almost sick at every turn. Ray was driving and we threatened to jump ship if he didn't slow down. We were so glad to see Port Douglas, our destination, and Lil and I immediately set out to check accommodations. We really lucked it out as our first stop was at a tourist info place, told the lady what we were looking for and she steered us on to what sounded like a great place right in town, close to beach, cheap etc. so we just had to go have a look. For $65 a night for 5 nights we each got a lovely suite, self contained, living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and big balcony.
Our Suite at the Palm Villas Condos in Port Douglas
We play a crazy card game every night and so our criteria for a decent room are a good table for cards and four chairs. Well this one has three tables so we really feel blessed! We have had great weather and nothing more than a little drizzle while driving. But in Cairns, an hour south they have had rain and flooding for 2 weeks. We leave for New Zealand from Cairns on Tuesday morning, stay at a B&B for a couple of days, and then rent our camper vans and do the north and south islands. Everyone says NZ is so different so it will be more new experiences, which we're all looking forward to. Ray is going to add his 2 cents worth and I'm going to finish my wine.
Well what can I say after all the above???
One bit on the card game. It is a simple game, initially involving four cards and thereafter much memory work with no peeking!. During our trip the four of us played some 63 games. Each game cost a participant $3 to get in with the chance to win the other $9. At the end of the tour Ray was some $117 in the hole! Now he’s worried about all those little old ladies in ‘The Home’ who will be out to try and take his money! Certainly not a candidate for TV poker! I must try and remember to warn those little old ladies about Bill Therriault – he will try and take their money!
Port Douglas is a little town that started out as a port through which Australian gold was moved in the 1870's; it then turned into a little fishing village; and since the late 70's tourism has taken over. This is the only place in the world where two world heritage areas come together - the GBR and the Australian rain forest - both major attractors. This little town - like Banff - has no opportunity for much expansion as it is built on a point, backed by a bunch of mountains. It is obvious that it is growing and reminds me of Banff in the early 70's. But the shops are in part classy, and it is full of 20-somethings doing all the work and loafing for a while. It does not appear that the Japanese have found it yet because I've only seen one add in Japanese. If they do find it then look out!! There are a bunch of available lots here - anyone want to start a consortium....??? I'll volunteer to sacrifice my time and manage the project at a rate we can afford!
A couple interesting facts:
1) Australian bills have a plastic window incorporated in them
2) There are 20MM people on the continent; best estimates suggest there should be 8MM to be sustainable.
3) Their main economic productivity comes from minerals, particularly coal, then tourism, and then agriculture.
A Banana Crop Ripe for the Picking – Flattened by Cyclone Larry 5 Days Later!
4) Most of Australia’s conifer is shipped to Japan as chips, and then they have to import the expensive paper
5) One of the reasons the GBR is deteriorating is because of the lack of nutrients coming off a nutrient-poor continent
So study hard, there will be a test!
Thus endeth the lesson!
S & R
Sent: March 22, 2006 12:50 AM – Auckland, NZ
Subject: Well, Since We Are in Auckland It Must Be Wednesday!
Let's see, where were we? Oh yes, I believe we had a Class 5 cyclone bearing down on us the last time we talked. Well, it hit land some 50 km south of Cairns about 8 am on Monday. We got rain and some mild wind at Port Douglas but other than a few flickers of the lights it played no real havoc. However, the guys who clean up yards did quite well on Monday and Tues removing the palm and other branches. Bill decided to go fishing off the dock on Monday aft, and caught a couple fish, and a crab!
Bill Fishin’ on the Dock of the Bay
If you ever come this way PD is a good place from which to do the Reef and the Rainforest and it has some really classy accommodation, particularly in the off season when prices are better than even Hearst!
We drove into Cairns on Tues and connected with our flight. The airport had been closed all the previous day and we were the first flight out. We could start to see damage on the north edge of the city with a few uprooted trees and sugar cane fields at a 45 degree angle (pointing south because low pressure cells here turn clockwise). The power had been off in most of the city for the better part of Monday. Further south things were a disaster. One small town had most of its housing damaged, and Innisfail (probably 20K population) had about 50% of its housing damaged, some simply blown away. We saw pictures of banana plantations summarily flattened with nary a tree standing. The media said $300MM in damage to bananas and sugar cane!! It will be a tough one from which that part of the coast will have to recover. Interesting thing was that a second cyclone was following it in about 2 days off shore. Fortunately that one veered off across the Tasman Sea and eventually hit northern NZ as simply a tropical storm.
Arrived in Auckland yesterday pm and went to a B&B operated by a couple formerly of Thunder Bay. They arrived here in 1969 with four small boys and only a promise of employment. He had been working for Abitibi at the former Thunder Bay mill and decided he was fed up with shovelling snow. (She claimed they really moved because she was tired of feeding his extended family!) In any event it worked, the family is raised, his mother in law has forgiven him for taking the grandkids away, and they have become locals although they suggest that there are times when they still feel like outsiders. They are collectors and you can believe we were some surprised to walk inside and see Ojibway art and pictures and artifacts of moose - they play up the Canadian angle a bit and bully for them!
Our Auckland B & B Hosts – Gerard and Jerine Fecteau Formerly from Thunder Bay
They have 15 foot cacti growing in their garden and in bloom - three varieties no less. Auckland, like Sydney, is modern. They never get frost! Its population is 2MM, whereas the population of the entire country is only 4MM; there are about 700K Pacific "islanders" in the country, and perhaps 400K Maoris. Economy not as good as Australia, and since the country is easier to get into, many outsiders, including Arabs and Indians, use NZ as a stepping stone to Australia.
That's it from me.
We've spent the day in the city, took a luncheon cruise in the harbour and Lil and I got to steer the boat! Saw million $ boats and wonderful apartments all along the waterfront.
Auckland Waterfront and Sky Tower with Us Waving in the Middle Boat
We spent the rest of the pm at a Marine Museum, then for a beer, then an internet café, and now we are ready for dinner and then back to our B&B on the bus. We’re having fun! We pick up our campers on Friday and then do some exploring of the north and south islands.
Take care, wish you were here.
Sent: March 24, 2006 3:22 PM – Waitomo, NZ
Good Morning Canada:
It is 7.30am, it looks like a good day coming up, and we are in a place called Waitomo on the North Island. There are some limestone caves in the vicinity that we intend to explore today and, to our great fortune, there is also a fall sports day (perhaps more of a good old boys competition) on here today which we have planned to take in. It is literally in the lot(s) next to our the trailer park and we awoke this am to the sound of a mounted shepherd out working his three dogs with a small flock of sheep in preparation for the sheep dog competition later today. He was working them on the hillside so all were in plain view. Apparently sheep shearing and log chopping and horse jumping (primarily by young girls) are also on the syllabus, but it is not well organized enough for them to have a printed agenda. The most prominent items on the grounds are the bar building and the two other beer tents - sounds like it may just be an excuse for the locals to get themselves well watered up. At 7.30am there were at least five additional dogs tied up on the fence line so someone appears to be serious.
We left the Auckland airport at about 9.30 am yesterday but my glorious leader Bill made a wrong turn and we trooped about halfway back into the city before we could turn around. Did the same thing on the outskirts of Hamilton and spent about 45 minutes extracting ourselves there from, arriving here at about 3pm.
In the Waitomo Caves
We decided to make camp and then look around. Hiked thru some pretty lush forest in the adjacent reserve, had a slight disagreement with the lead bull in the paddock next the trail, and thus pushed on without much lingering. At one time last evening there were four sets of Canadians in the common kitchen in this establishment. Canadians seem to like NZ.
The landscape is different from anything I've experienced before - lots of little ups and downs in the topography with the hill tops up to perhaps 300 feet or so above the little valleys. In the Auckland area it was because of the fact that the hills were inactive volcanic vents; here we appear to be in a limestone area and the irregularities appear to be due to differential weathering (that's all the geology for today.
Roads here once away from the city (s) are generally two-lanes without much in the way of shoulders, and are considerably less than straight. We'll never be able to do the speed of N Ontario. Our camper is a Mercedes and, though noisy, is not a bad vehicle to drive. This German vehicle at least has the turn signal and wiper switches on the "right" sides of the steering column. Given that, even though it’s a standard, it appears to drive well on the left hand side. I did not realize how habituated I had become for left hand turn signals until I turned the wipers on every time I wanted to go left in our rental car!
Some Lush Forest at Waitomo
Some Cows on the Rugged North Island Landscape
So, that’s the story of Sonja and Ray and Lil and Bill to date.
Back at you later!
S & R
Sent: March 26, 2006 3:23 PM – Rotorua, NZ
Subject: First Day of Rain!
We are in Rotorua today - the prime area of hot spring activity in NZ. We got in yesterday about 1pm after a trip across the country from west to east.
It is dryer here, (OK, so that statement doesn't make sense since its raining but you know what I mean) and there is a lot of sulfur in the air. We were too unorganized to get anything done yesterday pm and since the rain had started we got groceries and the ladies shopped - they never stop!
Bill and I did a quick once around in one of the local town parks where the main attraction is a series of thermal pools, both mud and water. Interesting thing is that there are subdivisions on all sides, apparently somewhat oblivious to the volcanic activity. The springs keep showing up in different places and one can tell from the new and old fencing that the authorities have to run to keep up with the appearance of new volcanic features. There was a small blowout in January 2001 but no significant damage done.
Sonja and I'll try to go back and have another gander at them between showers today.
Now about sheep!
· There are 56MM sheep in NZ!
· We anticipate our track will allow us to see 3,452,601
· So far we are on schedule and have seen 642,928
· Most have had white faces, a few with black faces; most have not been recently sheared
· I have taken the time to talk to a few, they are not particularly personable
· The locals quite often use "dumb" when referring to sheep
· We watched about 150 being sheared in a competition the other day
· It takes about 45 seconds to shear a sheep so they will do 10 in about 10 minutes in competition
· The world record for a 9 hour shift by a single shearer is 779 animals!
· Any sensible sheep should not allow such indignities to occur to their person.
Sheep Numbers 528,387; 528,388; and 528,389
Oh, the Indignities of Being Sheared!
· Evolution still has apparently not taught them that they can use teeth as weapons as well as to grind food
· I kept waiting for one to use his teeth on the nether regions of the shearer when the sheep's head was being held with a leg lock, but no such luck
· They could also go for the closer regions! Ouch!
· While shearing competitions are interesting, biting sheep would probably turn it into a TV sport rivaling roller derby
Gonna have to work on that!
So it’s off to the sulphur thermal bathing pools in the rain!
S & R
Sent: March 31, 2006 2:16 AM – Richmond, NZ
Subject: Ray's Continuing Epistle to the Canadians
Sheep count: 1, 203,117
Road killed possums: A big bunch!
Well, here we are on the South Island. We came across on the ferry from Wellington to Picton yesterday after a worried (5 meter waves the day before) anticipation but no problem. Covered another 100 km and then set in for the night. Ralph and Lynn will remember the roads on the south side - they go up and they go down and they go round and round and they are narrow, and because of size, log trucks take precedence. Sonja has a sore leg from working the imaginary "second" brake!
We stopped off today at the longest suspension bridge in NZ - actually at an old mining operation (c 1860) where they were trying to extract gold from the alluvial gravels. Like some areas of N ON, much more brawn that brains, and the trenches are still quite visible in the rain forest. Later in the pm we made the west coast at a town called Westport (for those of you charting this exciting journey on a map ----- what do you mean no one is charting on a map!!!). After checking in today we went out to another seal colony about 15 minutes from the campground and watched for the better part of an hour. The big thing was the group of 10 or so 5-month old pups chasing each other in a shallow pond and playing King of the Mountain!
I need to tell you about car camping! We last indulged in 1989 in Cochrane while waiting for our house to get remodelled. Not a bad arrangement as I remember. But most of our time was spent in a VW camper (Norma remembers!!) which we bought in 1972 (traded in on a '71 Mach 1 Mustang, if you can believe!) when Chris arrived! Kept it until 1989 when we went to Cochrane - it saw both coasts and many Ontario Provincial Parks. I was of the opinion that it was somewhat smaller than our present Mercedes camper, but we have noticed a strange thing - it is much more difficult for us to pass by each other in this unit than it was in the VW. It must be that the Mercedes people advertise their vans as being larger when it is obvious to us tht we cannot slide by like we used to. False advertising I'd say! Maybe I'll write a letter!
The ‘Too Narrow’ Isle in Today’s Camper!
And we have a toilet and we have a shower. Both in the same room! If one sits on the toilet during shower time he gets much wet and someone else’s derriere in his face if someone else is showering! So we have had to agree to take turns! This is really the stuff of retirement.
The bed takes up the whole back and is a series of cushions over a plywood frame. It works well and it quite comfortable - however, getting in and out is also a "taking turns" affair and fortunately Sonja is very good at describing the process of "taking turns" to me. We have a electric heater (luckily I still have not run off with the electric cord bouncing in the dirt behind - it has happened to me a couple times in the winter over the past 40 yrs.) which is good, and a pump for water which is good! Both come in handy. It took me only a week to figure out how to lock the doors from the inside (poor design or no imagination?).
In all the temperature is just that - temperate and generally could be described as Sept in TB. The one notable thing however is the fact that every am when I migrate from inside to outside I marvel to myself how warm it is. I guess I have come to inherently believe that 50 C is the norm for a September morning!
We met two kids last night from Alberta. They have been here for a few months and right now are living by picking grapes - lots of grapes as most of the former tobacco farmers in the valleys had to either switch or fight – NZ’ers are generally lovers so they switched! Great wine industry here as you all know; a liter of white today from the supermarket $6.95! Interestingly, NZ will not allow the import of migrant workers for agricultural purposes; instead the country supports short term working visas for backpacking, under-31 year olds with round trip tickets. Jobs are not a problem in harvesting season and they pay generally by the hour.
Gas has been consistently $1.54NZ while diesel is $1.14 (and our fuel - but we have yet to pay a tax of 1.50 per 100km driven). Gas in Australia ran from 1.10A to 1.19A. So guys don't complain! (Prices went up to $1.66NZ and $1.26 by mid-April!)
Running out of coin!
Good night, mates!
S & R.
Sent: April 1, 2006 2:09 AM – Franz Joseph Glacier, NZ
Subject: And It's Another G'day Mate!
Sheep count: 1,704, 368
Goat count: 440
Deer (generic) count: 1024
Possums: More bunches as road kill!
Well, it’s Saturday pm and here I am on the computer - nothing else to do! We are in a small town called Franz Joseph Glacier in a brand new trailer park. The town was named after the Emperor of Austria but for what reason we know not.
The Franz Joseph Glacier Holiday Park with Motel Units in Background
I might take a minute to describe these “trailer parks”. They are locally termed “holiday parks” and have facilities for tents and for standard campers (and trailers, though few in number). In addition they offer as well at least three types of roofed accommodation: i) a basic room in a motel-style unit with nothing more than a bed and some chairs, you bring your own bedding and use the site facilities, ii) an upscale room with the usual amenities but the bathroom is down the hall, and iii) the full-blown en suite motel unit. In one place i)s were going at $40/night and iii)s at $100/night. Our power site cost $24/night. All these parks had pools, well appointed kitchens and toilet/shower units, and hot water was never a problem. They tended to be in towns with a tourist draw, and although we never had a problem getting a site before dark, we were told that during the high tourist season the rule is make reservations.
Sonja's foot is hurting even more than yesterday and it has grown about 2 inches as she kept trying to find a brake today. Funny how the roads in the mountains seem to have a characteristic switchback to them!!! We decided not to drive up to the glaciers this pm as it might have ended in divorce if there were switchbacks (and there would have been!). Weather also deteriorated later this pm so the trip would have been in fog as well! Discretion IS the better part of valor!
Toured the town in about 20 minutes and bought only some necessities (yes, Jill, we have the Jaffas!) Had some nachos in a bar that had filled up with locals to take in the Saturday night rugby match - even I could see the merits of the game but we left it at about quarter time. Quite a bit of blood already, but none yet in the bar.
Tomorrow it’s on to Queenstown.
Keep the faith!
S & R.
Sent: April 2, 2006 3:52 AM – Queenstown, NZ
Subject: Today’s Stats
Sheep count: 1,836,943
Goat count: 521
Deer (generic) count: 1489
Possums: Many more bunches plus as road kill.
Trust you are getting much out of these stats as we sure go to a lot of trouble counting!
S & R.
PS In Queenstown and out to Milford Sound tomorrow!
Sent: April 5, 2006 4:52 PM – Queenstown, NZ
Subject: Correcting an Error
A grievous error has occurred!
The NZ Department of Statistics just published (Monday) the new sheep number survey for the country and the revised figure is 39.9MM and not the 56MM that I earlier reported. So much for taking the word of a cab driver as the gospel truth!
That really means that our anticipated sheep total to be encountered in NZ must be revised. This, with great dexterity and caution, I have done using the tactics for counting ravens in the Northern Region of Ontario perfected by Mr. Mike Barker and yours truly on a snowy trip to Timmins in 1984. (For the record there were at that time 141,000 ravens in the Region) The new anticipated total of sheep to be seen on our journey is 2,579,451. At last report we were already at 1,836,943.
I can safely report this am that our actual count is now 2,006, 332. The number is higher than would be expected because these crazy ranching 'buggers' run them almost to the tops of mountains, mountains that I had treated in our calculations as being devoid of sheep. This all proves that one really needs to have a bit of experience before calculating animal populations in a new territory. In contrast, the raven count would have be much closer to reality given the great depth of experience of the two 'calculators' in Northeastern Ontario!
I must tell you about possums. They were brought in from Australia, circa 1895, as a group of 24. Today they are estimated to number somewhere between 80 and 90 million (source: local pelt buyer). They are reported to eat about a cubic kilometer of NZ foliage every night. They have been found to also be eating birds’ eggs and so there is little love for possums in NZ.
A Variety of Possum Color Phases
They are about the length of a large domestic cat but about twice the size in diameter. They are furry, and it fact they were originally brought here to start a fur industry. They look somewhat possum-like (they should!) in the face with large ears. The general color is a deep brown to black back with lighter tan under parts, but there is quite a variation from almost black to grey.
The fur is reported to be the fourth warmest fur in the world after wolverine, polar bear, and fur seal as it is hollow. It has a very nice texture.
The fur buyer I ran into was at the dead end of a dead end road – population of the town 230. He was at the time stapling pelts that had just returned from the tannery to a final drying board to be set out in the sun. His seamstress had made the necessary corrections to remove or repair the torn or scraped bits. He told me he buys about 50,000 pelts a year, no road kill thank you, and pays about $10 to 12 per pelt.
In his shop he sells tanned hides, vests, blankets, muffs, and just about anything you want. His biggest sales now are to Russians - hats of course - and much of it is via the internet! I noted that a poorly sewn fur collar was going for $140 in a gift shop. For those looking for that unique gift practically every gift shop in the country carries a supply of belly-button warmers (unisex), nipple warmers (unisex), and "peter" warmers (not unisex). If any of you are interested advise within the next couple days and well fill the necessary order!
(Surprisingly, we had no orders!?)
S & R in Christchurch
Sent: April 6, 2006 6:49 PM – Kaikoura, NZ
Subject: The Continuing Saga.
Good am Mattie:
So the saga continues! Sheep counted after yesterday now number some 2,134,276; some good sheep country yesterday north of Christchurch.
Our journey on the south island has taken us along the west coast and then into the interior via the Haast Pass (has a good ring to it, right); some tight corners but not much of a white knuckler!. After crossing the Southern Alps, we got into the rain shadow and experienced much drier conditions. As it is fall every thing, with the exception of irrigated fields, tends to be a rich tawny color - gorgeous!
Queenstown was our first interior destination. It has the reputation of being the Banff of NZ. Its one hold over Banff is the fact that it is sited on a large intermountaigne lake. In spite of being glacier fed the lake is crystal clear at the QT waterfront. The community is filled with tourists and the necessary young people who service the tourists. Lots of restaurants (I do not think we have seen anything advertising NZ fare to our apparent good fortune, right Betty!!) There were many Thai, Chinese, and Indian, and of course the ubiquitous MacD and Burger King. We had the best Thai food we've ever experienced for lunch on Tuesday. Miss Timmy's (or Robins) though!
We had planned to go to Milford Sound by air but the weather was "out on the coast” (where have I heard that phrase before??) and not expected to be breaking until at least Wednesday. As it was, the bad weather continued and there had not been a break as of yesterday. Could have driven but it was a 12 hour trip with some tricky road and so decided not to run it. In its stead we followed the advice of a couple from Montreal and went jet boating on the Dart River. In all simply a great experience but Sonja is glad we got back to terra firma in one piece - she had her doubts at times. These jet boats run in about 4" of water and one can take them essentially where one would take a canoe - except the upstream (the best way!) speed is roughly 70 km an hr. The drivers will occasionally do a rather sphincter-tightening wheelie in a deeper pool and after one such unanticipated event Sonja asked the 20-something driver if he mother knew what he did for a living! It got quite a laugh from the other 11 passengers. At the end when asked how she liked it she retorted that her hair had been dark brown before we started up the river!! The scenery was however quite spectacular, particularly since there were low hanging clouds trying to clear out of the valley. The trip took us through several site locations for the Lord of the Rings movie, which NZ is properly marketing in all their tourism brochures.
Lord of the Rings Country….Literally!
We left QT in mid afternoon and headed north where we were scheduled to meet up with Lil and Bill a day and a half later. We went thru Landis pass at about 3.30pm and it was perhaps the most striking scenery we've seen - relatively low, rounded (read glaciated) hills dressed in the richest fall tawny brown grass that I've ever seen. Spent the night in another park in Omarama which caters to fly fishermen - certainly the only one that we have seen that sold hand-tied fishing flies in packets of six in the office! According to the snapshots in the office great rainbow and brown trout fishing!
The next day got us into Christchurch where we overnighted. A typically British town of about 150K with its own River Avon with narrow gondola-type boats being polled by young husky gondoliers. Our mission was to find a jade necklace like Sonja had seen in a little out of the way shop in some little out of the way village. No luck, but finally a substitute was chosen. She is presently going thru the shops in this little town, Kaikoura, still looking.
Kaikoura is the wale watching capital of NZ and we were scheduled to go out this am at 9am. Trip cancelled due to rough seas from a weather cell that moved in overnight. We rebooked to tomorrow early am. We did see one dolphin jumping out in the bay as we had a coffee waiting for the rain to let up. Sun is now out only an hour later. Maybe tomorrow!....... We golfed yesterday pm with the Therriaults after a fresh fish lunch from stock that Bill had caught in the
A View in Lindis Pass
am on a charter. We had more fresh fish and lobster from Bill's catch for supper, and with the mandatory wine, a fine way to wind up another good day.
Intent is to take the ferry sometime in the next couple days and slowly make our way back to Auckland and the airport for next Thursday.
Till next time!
S & R
Sent: April 10, 2006 4:50 PM – Hastings, NZ
Subject: It's Tues am So This Must be the North Island!
Good AM Canada.
We made a second crossing mid-Sunday without any nauseating effects (literally) even though the radio said 3 meter swells. They did not materialize.
Prior to that we spent a couple days in Kaikoura on the Pacific coast. The town is situated in a unique location where the sea floor drops off to about 3000 feet immediate to the coast. Water is rich in food and in large predators as a result. We went whale watching and managed to get up and 'comfy' with two while the third dived before we got too close. Sperm whales - the tour operators have them all identified. Unfortunately we missed the dolphins for what ever the reason that day - the location is great for both dolphins and porpoises but they certainly made scarce on Saturday. Perhaps they were all out for a weekend visit to another area?
Thar She Blows!
Are camped on the beach at this point in time and are off to see kiwi (the fruit) being born this am. The farm is located at a site next to the town of Te Puke (interesting name - probably named after the habits of some of its whiskey-ridden Irish founders) which bills itself as the Kiwi Capital of the World.
Yesterday we took in a sheep show where they reviewed most of the breeds in NZ and their uses. I bought a poster (my only purchase so far) which I will gladly review with all who are interested - some 19 breeds in much glorious detail. The sign-up list will come out tomorrow so don’t worry about not being able to get the opportunity to review. Betty will remember the show from a couple decades back - still going on and they had perhaps 200 at the afternoon show, most of us imports, and most of us Asian. They even had instantaneous translation set up. We found we needed it as well because these Kiwi's speak too damn fast!
For those of you just dying to know, there are few eucalyptus plantations in NZ. I had expected to see them around every turn, but not so. I've only seen one that would have been planted for commercial reasons, and it was not very large. It is all radiata pine, and most of the plantations are on the North Island and perhaps the top 1/6 of the South Island - the rest of the South Island is either park or too dry. Logging trucks are a bit of a challenge on some of the switch back roads.
Now I know you thought I missed it but no....it is time ...drum roll...for the sheep count!!
Sheep Count as of 5.30pm, April 10 - 2,487,904.
Goats: Still at last count plus 1
Deer - various species: 52,906 (Red deer and Wapiti are the most numerous).
Maori-owned Kiwi Operation near Te Puke
We have one more night in the camper - campers out number trailers about 100 to 1 - and then it is back to Auckland to drop the vehicles off and to a hotel to give us some time to get reorganized before flying east and picking up that day we lost getting here. Sonja and I spend Thursday night first on a plane and then again in San Francisco before leaving for Toronto and TB on Friday.
Unfortunately (for you) there will probably be at least one more e-mail. Grin and bear it because it will soon be over!!
S & R
Sent: April 12, 2006 8:25 PM – Auckland, NZ
Subject: Some observations
Good day all:
Some final observations, in no particular order:
*Final sheep count: 2,563,756 Analyses: We were striving to reach our adjusted final count of 2,579,451 but fell short by some 5,695 animals. Main reason for the shortfall was the dearth of animals in the Te Puke kiwi fruit growing area and the corresponding fact that from our last campsite into Auckland we saw only three batches of woollies - it is a dairy cattle area devoted to providing the milk ration to the Auckland city area. So we overestimated a bit. I'm trusting that the sheep counting gods will take pity on the faux pas in our original calculation because this is our first time with sheep!
* Don't like the NZ weather? - wait 2 hours!
* 97% of the roads in NZ fall into the "windey" or "really windey" categories.
* Australia is a big country - it really cannot be "done" by vehicle in a month
* NZ because of its smaller size seems more intimate and can be reasonably covered in a month and leaves one with a closer relationship
*Can see why several of you have suggested you would like to come back to NZ!
* The government provides all homeowners in NZ with $100K in free volcano/earthquake insurance.....think about the message there!
* NZ’ers have the same inferiority complex about Australia as Canadians have about the US. Logo on a kids 'T' shirt, " My Dad says I can do anything I want when I grow up...except play for Australia!"
* 99.9% of the time Canadians will be mistaken for Americans in NZ/Aus...When corrected both nationalities apologize!
*Koala bears are not cuddly - they have very long, hard, clinging claws!
*To get up and personal with wildlife in Australia a Kangaroo Island tour is a good bet.
*If you're gonna be in Australia then a trip to the Great Barrier Reef should be part of the agenda - hope for good weather!
*Sydney is more impressive than Auckland and Auckland is more impressive than Adelaide. Wellington was not impressive. Christchurch has an old-English flair.
* If you lock all the camper van doors, ensure someone has the key outside the van. In New Zealand it costs $60 to have a locksmith jimmy a van door!
* Australia will have to make some major (and likely painful) adjustments to its population and agriculture habits to make it through this century without an economic collapse - it is digesting its environmental capital at an amazing rate.
* Both Australia and NZ have been hard done by through indiscriminate and often well intentioned introductions of destructive foreign species including rats, pigs, rabbits, ferrets, foxes. Some of the waterways are now suffering from foreign plant introductions.
*The only living inland wildlife seen in NZ was one feral grey tabby cat in the middle of nowhere and two rabbits on the golf course
*The number of NZ possums noted dead on the highway during the past three weeks was 2,604; those on their back with legs in the air 932.
* Queenstown has many Canadian (?) mountain ash trees decorating its streets!
* Residents of both countries are friendly; NZ’ers are probably a bit more laid back.
* If you talk to a retired deer farmer about deer farming in the middle of a campground late on a Saturday afternoon ensure you have worked out an appropriate "exit strategy" before you begin the conversation.
* Everyone we met has a relative living in Canada, or has spent time there themselves; a few were Canadians.
* Van camping is popular in NZ, and particularly so with Europeans, especially Germans, who are frequently seen traveling with pre-school kids
* Neither Port Douglas nor Queenstown can rival Banff as an attractive (and expensive) tourist town.
* Food is more expensive in NZ and Aus than in Canada.
* Diesel fuel went up 10 cents a liter in the past 3 weeks in NZ. Gas is now $1.65/l for regular.
* The 12 to 25 cent premium on Canadian dollars turned out to be much more significant than we had anticipated!
* Every bar in both countries will have professional rugby on TV and a strong showing of fans in the seats on an early Saturday evening. (In Spain it was bull fighting).
S & R
Well the trip home was rather uneventful. NZ Air took us to San Francisco in about 13 hours; I watched 3 movies including March of the Penguins. We arrived in SF at noon on the same day we left NZ although we left Auckland at 7.30 pm. After a short sleep we went down to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. The highlight was having dinner overlooking the local colony of SF Bay sea lions. They apparently moved in after the
The Sea Lion Colony in San Francisco Bay
1989 earthquake and have continued to be a tourist and scientific attraction ever since; they are managed(?) by the US F&W service which has an interpretative office at Pier 39.